Valencia Test Deep Dive, Part 1: Honda - New Aero, Frame, Engine, And Clutch, But Little Improvement

Over the next week or so, I will be taking a deep dive into what I saw at the test, with the help of photos from Niki Kovács and having talked a few things over with Peter Bom. But examining all of the photos and thinking about what I saw has been an intensive affair, as I tried to figure out what was going on.

But we'll start off with Honda. For a lot of reasons. Not just because Marc Marquez expressed disappointment at what HRC had brought to the test, but also because two new riders switched to Honda, including the 2020 MotoGP champion Joan Mir and the winner of the Valencia MotoGP race Alex Rins.

I gave my first impressions from the test on Tuesday evening after the test, but the trouble with working quickly is that you don't notice what you have missed. There are so many small changes that you don't really have time to absorb them all. And sometimes, there are so many eye-catching changes that you miss out on other big changes, which is certainly the case with Honda.

At the time, Marc Marquez said he was disappointed by what Honda had brought. "Of course, I always expect more but it was not there. But the most important thing is that Honda is working and we know that they are working more for February than now. And yeah, I expect a bigger step in February at Malaysia test."

Marquez' measure of disappointment is plain not just in what he told us reporters, but also from the timesheets. The Repsol Honda rider did the fewest laps of the 2023 MotoGP field, completing 50 laps in 8 runs. By contrast, Fabio Quartararo racked up a total 92 laps on 15 exits. Newly crowned 2022 MotoGP champion Pecco Bagnaia took some time to rest on his laurels, but still managed more laps than Marquez – a total of 59 laps in 11 runs.

Doing so few runs and so few laps is a sure sign of frustration for Marquez. But at least there were a lot of HRC engineers from Japan he could tell directly what he thought. "It was a long time since I see so many Japanese staff inside the box. So it was a long time since I saw this kind of reaction," the Spaniard said. "So this is some sign already."

"It’s true that they get a lot of information. And as you see I didn’t make many laps today. I did the laps that I need to try and that’s it. Then, there was no sense to put on the soft tire and no sense to make the time attack, because the time attack is not the real potential of the bike. So just I did my job and gave the comments and now it’s time for them to work in the winter time."

Marquez said he had tried a new prototype bike, with the updated aerodynamics he had been using since Phillip Island. He tried that bike with the old engine and with a new engine, with a little more torque. But there were things he didn't tell us either. That included two new chassis, the exhaust set Honda have been playing with for a while, a new air intake, a new clutch, and a new tail.

Let's start with the frames HRC brought to Valencia. Visually, we can be certain that Honda had at least two there, and probably a third, a variation on the new frame which Takaaki Nakagami has been using for the latter part of the season.

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year: 
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Comments

Just speculation but, given the significant changes in the airbox area, plus the fact the exhausts now finish further back, could it be that Honda have rolled the cylinders to a different angle in the frame to make more room for the airbox and/or modify the weight distribution? It seems from the riders comments and performances this year that there's something fundamentally wrong with the handling of the bike so big changes like that don't seem unlikely to me...

"...Switching Brands Is Harder Than You Think" (unless you are Miguel Oliveira)

;)

Honda is showing signs of change and action. This is good and promising. What a strong line up of riders too! 

So many new parts, must feel mix and match rather than a package. It is early yet, and they look eagerly industrious. 

I sure stay curious regarding what is happening with Test programs and back at headquarters. There isn't so much info out there. How active are each Manu's Test staff? Bradl hardly says much publicly.

Curious about staffing changes too - Ducati lost a few engineers poached by competitors right? And the Suzuki staff, anyone have news?

:)

Looking fwd to so much. This bike, plus both Rins and Mir on it. This rulebook though, it is quite Red. Bologna really nailed these Michelins too, really impressive. The Marc and Binder brake smasher style quit working. So did the smooth Lorenzo Blue chassis. Shapeshifter/ride height gizmos plus huge aero = Duc. 

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Aside, last night watched closely a MotoAmerica Supersport race from nearby The Ridge in Washington state. The GSXR750 has just arrived. Good old Road Racing World related M4 Suzuki/Team Hammer is leading the way with them and may be poviding a first race kit globally. 

A Ducati 950 Twin w an experienced rider took off and gapped fairly early to win. A kid on a GSXR750 was in 2nd, rather defensive lines, consistent, and grunting away from a frenetic and relentless R6 over and over. Rather tight track, lovely elevation change. Back a bit were some GSXR600's and Kawasaki 600's (are those 636cc then? Remember when 36cc seemed a nice boost? Well, it is nearly 5x that now at 150cc). "Next Generation Bikes" is the term used for the 750 4's and 950 Twins. The term "Supersport" is used from an RC390 Single through RS660 Twin and up to them. 

One can rather feel badly for the Yamaha R6. It was the last new 600cc update, after they made the manta ray lights R1M. After that, the whole game and rules changed around them! 

Rumor has it Honda may be working on a CBR750RR. Yamaha may put out a R9 Triple. MV Agusta has 800cc, Triumph 765cc, and Yamaha could come with 890cc. Confused yet? Kawasaki on the other hand is focusing on hi revving 250cc and now 400cc 4 cyl Sportbikes, a seemingly odd move re racing but perhaps sales niche. (Where would a ZX4 go, Supertwins?!). 

Ducati has grabbed both MotoGP and WSBK trophies! Via huge ambitious change. 

I feel old. But perked up. 

A Honda CBR750RR? Color me skeptical. Maybe it's just the disappointment from the (rumoured) Kawasaki zx-4r no-show at EICMA, but what class would Honda enter this machine in? I've been waiting longer than I can remember for a new RC30, and every year I'm left disappointed. Given market forces I can't see it happening.

I never know what the protocol is for citing other news sources on David's site. Regarding staffing changes, GPOne has a list of crew chief moves driven by the number of riders changing brands: "MotoGP, Comings and goings: the waltz of the riders and crew chiefs for 2023." Seems like a fair number of moves - I assume some technicians might follow crew chiefs and riders.

David: my apologies if this is bad protocol (citing other sources); but I much prefer the amazing technical analyses you bring to us, as in this in-depth look at the Honda development program, than HR details.

that widening the frame toward the rear into the swing arm pivot would stiffen the bike on its side all else bing equal. It would also likely provide greater lateral stiffness on the power. Flex and feel are so critical. Assuming the thickness of the box sections does not change, it appears on the latest version that they have chosen to maintain a more constant stiffness across the upper portion of the frame than in earlier iterations.

Also of note seems to be the rearset configuration. Notice that the rearsets on the early 2022 bike are very boxed in. Nakagami still seems to use these. What MM uses now and on the test bike are much more compliant, it would appear both vertically and horizontally with no box and a curved lower support.

The steering head section of the frames appear significanlty altered from a stiffness perspective but this may be deceptive. It appears the materal thickness would have to have increased to matintain the same ridgidity up front. This leads me to wonder what differences in fork flex are on offer from Ohlins for the teams and how this translates into finding optimal flex at the steering head.

Thanks for the inspiring article.

So much information. What one can't tell is the thickness of the various frame parts. It would be illuminating for a visual perceiving kind of guy (me) to see how the different frames (and swingarms) flex from various forces by watching a computer generated animation. Thanks for the wealth of information and pictures David. Great article as always. 

The testing restrictions are going to make it hard for Honda to catch up given that the best feedback comes from active MotoGP riders who can push the bikes into those critical areas needed to be 100% fast. Feedback from four riders (three being very fast) at the last test would help but what if the feedback is inconsistent or contradictory. Based on last year's results Honda almost needs concessions!

Thanks once again David for another great article. I love geeking out on all this stuff. It would be really interesting to see the correlation between the cost of mods vs performance gained (speed, HP etc). I’ve always been fascinated that a Moto 2 bike can circulate as quick as what the old CRT bikes used to and the cost of getting those extra seconds to match the GP bike would be in the millions.